2015 Volkswagen Touareg Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 4, 2015

The 2015 Volkswagen Touareg is expensive and fancy for a VW, but less expensive than some comparable luxury-SUV options.

The 2015 Volkswagen Touareg is a lavish vehicle, with a premium price, offered alongside the brand's more mainstream models—albeit more of a rival to models with luxury badges.

The Touareg isn't just the most expensive and luxurious model VW sells in the U.S.; it's the larger of two sport-utility vehicles in the company's lineup, and its basic underpinnings are shared with the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.

Although the Touareg got more of a road focus with its last redesign, it remains relatively rugged. The goal then was to give it broader appeal—though the price remains a hangup, and VW's new three-row SUV expected next year will close the market gap, with more value and a lower price.

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That said, the latest Touareg is considerably lighter than its porcine predecessor; it's also nicer inside, and more elegant on the exterior, with less of a butch appearance. A slightly wider body, and somewhat longer wheelbase and length give the design more of a conventional crossover-wagon look (and functionally, more space), while the interior layout has remained much the same, with its more upright orientation compared to other family crossovers. For 2015, Volkswagen is subtly redesigning the front end, with a new four-bar grille and a chrome band for the lower fascia. The hatch has also been reshaped, and there are new wheel designs.

Eight-speed automatic transmissions and full-time four-wheel drive are the building blocks in the powertrain department, while under the hood there are three quite different engine choices. Base versions get a conventional gasoline V-6--a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower narrow-angle V-6 (VR6)--while two other versions show the way toward both more power and better gas mileage, albeit at a price premium.

The clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI has been our favorite of the lineup, with its strong torque output (407 lb-ft) and confident feel for towing (up to 7,700 pounds) or highway cruising. An updated version of this engine steps up to 240 hp and even better fuel efficiency.

The Hybrid model combines a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with an electric motor system, sandwiched between the engine and transmission, for a combined 380 horsepower--and an EPA rating of 20 mpg in city driving. It gets a better boost in highway driving compared to other hybrids, due to the system's ability to disengage the engine and motor for long high-speed coasting.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

The Touareg used to be grossly overweight, but with its last redesign VW made it lighter overall, and better-detailed inside. Astoundingly--through the use of advanced materials and techniques--it engineered about 450 pounds out of the vehicle, gaining up to 20 percent better fuel efficiency. It still offers way more truck-like ability than most other crossovers do--and more off-road and towing ability than most shoppers are likely to need. Think of that as a plus or a minus, depending on priorities.

Functionally, the Touareg's high seating position affords a good view out ahead. Front seats are excellent, but the rather tall and very wide center console tends to make the front area feel more confining than it needs to be. There's space for five, and the adult-sized rear bench can slide fore and aft through six inches of travel. You won't find a third-row seat like the one in Audi's longer Q7, but cargo space is quite good in the Touareg, with a power-folding arrangement that yields a fully flat cargo floor.

In all, the interior has luxury-class accommodations for four adults, and the cabin appointments feel more in line with the luxury set than the frugal set. It's in synch with the other VW models in design, yet it's appointed with nicely finished materials that share more in common with Audi in look and feel. Ride quality is quite good, but the high seating position accentuates smaller motions and choppy pavement. VW has added more chrome trim, new wood finishes, and a heated steering wheel for 2015, as well.

Safety is also enhanced for 2015, with the addition of blind-spot monitors, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise; the radar system also includes Front Assist with city emergency braking, and there's an automatic post-collision braking function. The Touareg continues to score well in IIHS testing, although it still hasn't been crashed by the NHTSA.

The 2015 Touareg offers a long list of standard features, although some shoppers might find that it's not quite in lock step with the luxury price. Leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, and memory seats are all included in the base Sport model. Executive and Hybrid models add premium audio, rear-obstacle detection, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, and heated rear seats. Major options include an impressive 620-watt Dynaudio premium sound system, and a navigation system with upgraded display and built-in music storage.

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2015 Volkswagen Touareg

Styling

Richly designed on the inside but conservative on the outside, the 2015 Touareg is stylish but doesn't push any design boundaries.

For 2015, the Touareg receives a very mild refresh. There's a new grille featuring four bars up front, as well as restyled fascias than include a chrome strip that mirrors the one already found on the SUV's body sides. In the rear, the hatch has been reshaped slightly. And to top it off, there are new wheel designs to keep the Touareg looking fresh.

From a design perspective, the modern Touareg fits in well with the current lineup of VW products. It's conservative, yet sophisticated, and its cabin is a step–and in some cases, several steps–above other mainstream SUV competitors.

On the outside, a slightly wider body, and somewhat longer wheelbase and length give the design more of a conventional crossover-wagon look (and functionally, more space). It's now more subtly sculptural, with some delicate details drawn into a conservative overall shape. What works best are the proportions: the headlights, the side glass, and the sheetmetal are balanced, thanks to a longer wheelbase and slightly wider dimensions that also net it more usable interior space than in the last generation.

Inside, the layout remains comparable to other rugged-luxury crossover designs, and the somewhat high seating position, upright orientation to the instrument panel, and high, wide center console all feel stylistically synergistic. Trims and materials have been upgraded, and matte-metallic bezels help punctuate. VW has added more chrome trim and increased wood choices for 2015, as well.

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2015 Volkswagen Touareg

Performance

The 2015 Volkswagen Touareg is a refined performer on the road, and it has the off-road chops to match.

When the Touareg was redesigned in 2011, VW trimmed 450 pounds from its weight, improving both fuel efficiency and driving dynamics. It's no longer as much of a tank, which we definitely see as a good thing. VW now offers three different powertrain options, each backed by an eight-speed automatic and four-wheel drive.

Base versions get a conventional gasoline V-6--a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower narrow-angle V-6 (VR6)--while two other versions show the way toward both more power and better gas mileage, albeit at a premium. The gasoline V-6 in the base Touareg is plenty quick, thanks in part to the eight-speed, which keeps revs up when you need it (it's not much of an engine for low-end torque), and unless you're a green-minded shopper willing to pay thousands extra for a slightly lower carbon footprint, it's fine for most tasks.

Those who plan to tow (capacity is 7,700 pounds for all engines), or those who are motivated by the idea of much better mileage on the highway will want to head straight for the clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI. It's our favorite of the lineup, with its strong torque output (407 lb-ft) and confident feel for towing or highway cruising. And the engine in 2014 models steps up to 240 hp and even better fuel efficiency (19 mpg city, 28 highway).

The Hybrid is the most expensive model and doesn't make much fiscal sense to us, for the performance you get or for its $15k higher sticker price. Meanwhile, the Hybrid's 380 horses and 428 lb-ft of torque is enough to scoot out from a stop nicely, but it feels more sluggish and deliberate in its motions. In this model, an electric motor system is sandwiched between the engine and the transmission, with clutches on either end so that the electric motor can power the vehicle by itself under light load, at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. The Touareg Hybrid model incorporates a start-stop system and regenerative braking; and the hybrid system allows the transmission to smartly—and completely—disengage from the engine, to allow coasting long distances at higher speed.

For those who want a hardier level of off-road capability, there's a Terrain Tech option package that brings specialized off-road modes and an adjustable air suspension.

The Touareg is still no crisp handler—few crossovers are, really—but it's now as nimble and responsive as many of its rivals. The weight reduction is easily felt from one generation to the next, and the Touareg's steering is nicely weighted, with calibration that's more suited to cruising down the highway than mixing it up in the twisties.

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2015 Volkswagen Touareg

Comfort & Quality

There's good comfort for five in the 2015 Touareg, with a nicely detailed, quiet cabin.

The VW Touareg seats four adults comfortably, and the cabin feels more in tune with more luxurious SUVs in the segment. It's styled like the rest of the current Volkswagen lineup's interiors, yet it's appointed in a way that feels more like an Audi inside.

Functionally, the Touareg's high seating position affords a good view out ahead. Front seats are excellent, but the rather tall and very wide center console tends to make the front area feel a bit cramped. There's space for five, and the adult-sized rear bench can slide fore and aft through six inches of travel. You won't find a third-row seat like in the Audi Q7, but cargo space is quite good, with a power-folding arrangement that yields a fully flat load floor.

Ride quality is quite good whether you go with the standard suspension or the air setup in off-road versions, but the high seating position accentuates smaller motions and choppy pavement.

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2015 Volkswagen Touareg

Safety

Safety scores aren't yet all in, but the Touareg has an impressive set of credentials and features so far.

The 2015 Volkswagen Touareg stands as one of the safest vehicles on the market, with a combination of excellent crash-test scores and advanced safety technology that could help avoid an accident.

While the federal government hasn't yet put the Touareg through its revised NCAP program, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given it top 'good' scores in frontal, side, rear, and roof-strength tests. It hasn't been subjected to the new small-overlap test, and therefore is not eligible for the Top Safety Pick+ award.

The Touareg includes nine standard airbags, along with all of the standard features that are typical among crossovers, but it's the safety-tech options that are most noteworthy. For 2015, the Touareg adds Lane Assist, blind-spot monitors (called Side Assist), and adaptive cruise control plus Front Assist with City Emergency Braking. An Area View monitor with four cameras, and bi-xenon headlamps with Dynamic Light Assist are also available.

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2015 Volkswagen Touareg

Features

There are a few luxury-level features missing in the Touareg -- so its luxury-tier pricing is all the more surprising.

Despite the Touareg's mainstream badge, its options and equipment are on par with many of the more luxurious alternatives on the road today. Whether or not those features justify the luxury price is your decision—we think a moderately equipped V-6 or TDI Touareg makes for a decent value, while higher trim levels and the Hybrid model are expensive enough to consider other options for the money.

The VR6 and TDI models come in Sport, Lux, and Executive trims, while the Hybrid only comes in what is comparable to the Executive trim level. All Touaregs come standard with a dual-zone climate, adaptive front lighting, and leather seating with memory. Premium audio is found on Executive and Hybrid models, which also receive a heated steering wheel, reverse sensors, heated rear seats, a panoramic roof, and keyless start. Those higher trim levels also get VW's hands-free easy open liftgate, which canbe triggered by waving your leg under the rear bumper. The Hybrid also receives a power tilt and telescoping wheel.

If you're already splurging and willing to spend some extra, options at the top of the lineup include a 620-watt Dynaudio premium audio system, as well as a navigation system with upgraded display and built-in music storage. New items for 2015 include the active-safety systems, such as lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, as well as blind-spot monitors and automatic emergency braking.

The Touareg is lacking somewhat in connectivity and infotainment options. And unlike most of VW's less-expensive models, the Touareg hasn't yet been outfitted with the CarNet system, which is similar to GM's OnStar and offers diagnostic and convenience features through an associated smartphone app.

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2015 Volkswagen Touareg

Fuel Economy

Even with TDI or Hybrid drivetrains, the 2015 VW Touareg is no more efficient than some crossovers with space for seven.

There are three engines available in the 2015 VW Touareg, each with a very different personality. You won't find a ton of torque in the V-6 (VR6) models, but they're plenty strong and have willing acceleration if you're not towing frequently. For those in need of a vehicle with towing capabilities, we strongly encourage looking at the TDI models. The Hybrid model improves the city fuel economy to some degree, but not enough to justify its premium pricing.

At an EPA-rated 17/23 mpg or 19 mpg combined, the gas V-6 lands at the bottom of the fuel-economy scale for the Touareg--and that's about par for the class, really.

The TDI diesel V-6 model rings in at 20/29 mpg or 23 mpg combined, while the Hybrid version gets just 20/24 mpg or 21 mpg combined. And with the Hybrid particularly, there's a stiff price premium.

While we value the Hybrid as a stepping stone toward greater electrification, we'd advise shoppers to make the practical choice toward the TDI—especially if you plan to do much expressway driving or take a lot of highway trips.

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